How and When to Use Direct Mail as Part of Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

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Mac McAvoy
Mac McAvoy


Direct mail regularly gets a bad rap as an exclusively outbound-focused tactic that doesn’t keep up with the ways buyers want to consume content.

But in the right situations, direct mail could be a crucial differentiator in a world where 78% of consumers have unsubscribed from a company’s email list because the company was sending too many emails.

Just as a product that’s similar to a dozen competitors will struggle to take off, marketing that looks like everyone else’s simply won’t be memorable. Classic digital marketing tactics like email have become so overcrowded that approaching inbound creatively is crucial to standing out from your competition.

Integrating inbound marketing principles with direct mail, by offering valuable content and personalized experiences, can effectively bridge the gap between digital engagement and tangible, real-world interactions with your audience.

The key to doing direct mail right is keeping it aligned with your inbound marketing funnel. By ensuring that your direct mail content resonates with your audience's interests and stage in the buyer's journey, you can create a more holistic and impactful marketing strategy that effectively combines the strengths of both inbound and traditional marketing techniques.Click here to download our free guide to digital marketing fundamentals.

Never forget your main objective: you want to lead prospects back online to continue nurturing them there. Any piece of mail you send must direct prospects online to help you track them throughout the process -- whether that’s including a link to a landing page or a code they can enter on your website. Plus, the more information you have about what kinds of offers they respond to, the better you can speak to their pain points and specific needs.

Identifying Your Potential Direct Mail Audience

Prior to beginning any marketing campaign, your team should be laser-focused on your potential customers’ preferences and needs.

Your number one priority is standing out to those who are most likely to buy your product. This fundamental step shouldn’t change when you’re considering incorporating direct mail into your marketing. Inbound is all about meeting prospective customers where they are.

If your target customers don’t check their mailboxes often, they’re probably not a good fit for direct mail.

Given the plethora of other places to spend, it’ll be hard to justify spending on direct mail over, for example, paid content promotion on social media if your target audience is addicted to their smartphones.

However, if your potential customers are old enough to own homes or apartments and are likely to check their mailboxes often, direct mail could prove to be effective. It’s all about understanding what your audience needs.

If you’ve identified that sending a letter or postcard is an effective way to reach your particular prospects, you can begin to think about the moments in the buyer’s cycle when it’s best to reach out with the personalized touch of a physical piece of mail.

Being Conscious of Your Prospects’ Stage in the Buyer Cycle

A prospect finds a piece of content useful and subscribes to your blog to stay in the know. So what’s your next step?

Keep in mind that all your prospect did was subscribe to an email list. That means they’re probably still a pretty “cold” lead. If they found a blog post through organic search or because they saw a headline that looked interesting on LinkedIn, they’re not going to appreciate receiving any type of content that attempts to make a hard sell, let alone a postcard explaining your pricing.

Think about the number of coupons and offers that you’ve discovered in your mailbox, only to toss them in the recycling bin immediately. Those pieces of mail probably weren’t relevant to needs you’d expressed.

You need to make the content you’re offering via direct mail speak to the individual. That means that if at all possible, you want to segment your mailing list in the same way you’d segment an email list. Can you match a physical offer on a piece of paper to the article or offer the prospect just opened online?

Ultimately, striking at the right time with direct mail comes down to maintaining awareness of your prospects’ stage in the buyer’s cycle. Craft the direct mail piece that stands out from the rest by showing that your company understands their leads.

Creative Ways to Incorporate Direct Mail -- at the Right Time

Let’s return to the recent blog subscriber.

The typical inbound marketing response is to send them an email, thanking them for subscribing and assuring them that you’ll keep them updated when the next blog is published. Rather than sending a follow-up email, though, what if you responded with a direct mail piece?

You could thank them for subscribing to your blog and direct them to some of your most popular blogs. You could even direct them to a landing page with a video that contains a personal message. It certainly stands out from the mundane marketing messages they see on a daily basis.

Rather than sticking with a complete email campaign, you could use a direct mail piece to encourage your prospect to check out an ebook or other offer you’ve created.

You could also provide them with a case study from a business similar to theirs and include compelling stats. The key is to help educate them on how to address whatever problems they’re trying to solve.

Further down the funnel, once a lead is more familiar with your brand, you might host an event they’d find useful. Invitees often perceive physical event invitations as more personal -- just as an invitation to a wedding or large birthday party is likely to feel more genuine when you find it in your mailbox rather than your inbox.

Drive event attendance and track your offline efforts effectively by putting a QR code on the invite that motivates invitees to register online.

Direct mail is particularly useful when you’re trying to target a specific geo-location, age bracket, or household income level. It comes back to meeting your customers where they are. If you’re running a campaign on a local level, generate buzz in your community by sending out a visually compelling piece of direct mail that neighbors are apt to discuss.

Keys to Direct Mail Marketing Success

1) Focus on the trackability of your campaigns.

You should already be using a marketing automation solution to track your typical inbound efforts. In order to make the most of your direct mail efforts, you must also track these campaigns to decipher what’s working and what’s not.

Without tracking -- a function of driving recipients online – you won’t have a true understanding of what pieces are resonating with your prospects (and what topics they’re actually interested in). 

2) Keep it visual.

Remember what the last long, descriptive brochure you read said? Me neither. Lean away from long sentences and blocks of text. Instead, spark your recipient's interest with a beautiful image that’s relevant to the content or event you’re offering.

3) Provide a clear next step.

It’s best to limit yourself to one CTA per piece of direct mail -- and make it obvious. It’ll limit confusion and make it easier for you to evaluate the piece’s ROI.

4) Target people who are checking their mail (and particularly the ones who are hard to reach online).

It won’t matter how compelling the image or copy on your postcard are if your recipients aren’t seeing it. Consider setting up automation to send physical mailers to recipients that have expressed interest in your company, but haven't responded to digital outreach after a certain amount of time.

5) Always tie it back to online efforts.

The only way you’ll truly know how direct mail is influencing your bottom line is to track everything. Your mailers should have unique codes or phone numbers with unique extensions.

Prospects should go to landing pages that track their journey and trigger next steps in your marketing automation or sales process. Make sure you’re setting yourself up to prove the effectiveness of your campaign.

Remember, providing information to prospects when they’re ready is a foundational principle of inbound marketing.

If you can automate sending the right information at the right time, you’ll be primed to turn leads into customers.

Marketers commonly paint direct mail with an outbound brush, but classic mail can be an effective marketing tool with the right approach. With creativity and a targeted approach, you have the chance to speak to your prospects in a personalized and genuine way.

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